NRL Grand Final – Brisbane Broncos V North Queensland Cowboys. ANZ Stadium, Sunday. 21.20 NZT.
By Stephen Gallagher
26 regular season rounds, three intense weeks of playoffs footie. 16 teams widdled down to eight. Then six, four, and now here we are. two best teams in the 2015 season. The Brisbane Broncos. Six time Premiership winners, against little brother North Queensland – 20 years in the comp, winless of a Premiership.
Throughout the NRL season, we’ve all been sucked in to watching some magical football. Mighty comebacks, length of the field tries, golden point glory, sideline match winning conversions, drop goals, under the leg passes, passes through the legs while backflipping over a defender.
We’ve also been witnesses to come poor play. Teams fizzling out after three weeks, teams in the top eight with only four rounds remaining and falling short of a finals berth. Injuries ruining seasons of sides and those who gave up early.
And yes, we’ve also seen our fair share of KFC deals courtesy of the television match official.
The NRL ignites my soul. It’s an addiction that lasts for thirty weeks every single year. And day one after it is gone, I am looking for my next fix, I need a hit. Where can I score? Alas – I wait patiently until February for the NRL Nines. Though, we’ve got a Kiwis tour to England soon. That’ll help.
Back to the point anyway….. Sunday – Brisbane Broncos, the pride of Queensland in the NRL. NRL country they call it. A club enriched with history of living legends. Langer, Lewis, Walters, Renouf, Lockyer – all coached by Uncle Wayne Bennett.
This is the new era. Boyd, Hunt, Milford, Thaiday, Gillett. All wanting to go to war, bleed, and empty the tank for their club.
Then you look at the Cowboys – with the next immortal amongst their ranks. Johnathan Thurston. The greatest player the game has seen since the year 2000. A premiership winner 7 games in to his career with the Canterbury Bansktown Bulldogs, who famously gave his Premiership ring to injured captain Steve Price. A marvellous story. He wants his own ring this time.
A side full of immense raw talent, who’ve fallen short of this match the last three years.
Coote, Winterstein, Granville, Morgan, Scott, Tamou, Taumalolo. All household names – who have defined their careers and their potential in Townsville.
Come Sunday – the last 29 weeks of NRL football do not matter for anything. At least 80 minutes of rugby league will stand in the way. One side will reign in their 7th Premiership, the other – the sweetest juice of the first premiership win.
Boyd, Oates, Reed, Hodges, Kahu. There’s two big leaders here – Darius Boyd and Justin (NRL judiciary consistency say what?) Hodges. I don’t think you can credit these players enough for the development of the youngsters they’re surrounded by. Club legends, imagine playing alongside these blokes?
Corey Oates may not be the quickest, but boy he is talanted. And he’s only on the wing because their forward pack is stacked! He’s better in the second row. Jordan Kahu has had terrible injuries over the last three seasons but he sure has cemented that wing spot – with the fact he can kick goals too.
Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford have matured ten fold this year. Milford, a talented kid poached north of the border for the beginning of the year. Together Milford and Hunt express an all round game of excellent kicking and slick passing to produce some serious opportunities for the backs week in and week out, and the Grand Final will be the biggest test of both their careers.
Thaiday, McCullough, Blair, Glenn, Gillett, Parker. One of the most experienced forward packs in the comp, and it shows. Thaiday and Blair have lead the way for the last ten weeks. Their gallant runs and dominant tackles have given Brisbane the edge over their opponents. Corey Parker gets better every game he plays in and is the key to unlocking this forward packs talent. Alex Glenn gives his all every week, without getting his name on the highlights package – same goes for Matt Gillett. Just two genuine workhorses with ball playing abilities.
Wallace, Dodds, Ofahengaue, Nikorima. Not the best bench in the league, nor the strongest or most efficient – but Jarred Wallace, Mitchell Dodds and Joe Ofahengaue definitely punch above their weight and fill the shoes of the starting forwards more than they should. Then you get an X-Factor spark off the bench with Kodi Nikorima – who will no doubt make his Kiwis debut this End Of Year Tour. An outstanding rookie season for this gun.
WHY BRISBANE WILL WIN IT
After back to back seasons of mysery and a poor start to their Post-Lockyer era, the return of Wayne Bennett has done more than wonders for a club with a stacked roster. Sure, you can lead the horse to water – but you can not make him drink. In terms of rugby league – You may have the roster of stars to get the job done, but will they perform when needed?
Bennett knows exactly how to get the most out of his players (Scratch out those last two years with Newcastle, would ya?) and has the respect of his side. Though, they won’t do it for Wayne – these players will do it for themselves.
Coote, Feldt, O’Neill, Linnett, Winterstein. On paper, not exactly an amazing backline – but man, when these guys get some room to move – boy do they move! Coote had had a career riddled with injury, thus being his second year with the club but missing the entire 2014 season after a horrible knee injury in the Nines. He has bounced back brilliantly to form a great kick return game for this team.
Defensively, Justin O’Neill makes his name on this roster. He makes some great reads and makes his mark. Then you got a guy like Antonio Winterstein, who after the heartache of losing his younger brother this season has been one of the best Cowboys players in 2015.
JT and Michael Morgan. Queensland combatants and club pairing of doom. Michael Morgan broke out last year at fullback (a position he’d never even played before) and paired alongside Thurston brilliantly all season which saw him get a Queensland rep call up in a successful State Of Origin campaign. Not much needs to be said about JT. One of the most inspiring men in the game, on and off the field. His actions are incredible, and his goal kicking is a masterclass.
Scott, Granville, Tamou, Cooper, Lowe, Taumalolo. Matt Scott and Gavin Cooper have been seemingly playing since the dawn of time – and these guys are just incredible to watch. All guts, with a slice of glory in their game too. Surrounded by Jake Granville who is having a breakout season and Kiwi Jason Taumalolo recently crowned the Dally M for Lock of the year. This forward pack is an impenitrable shield of awesome.
Kostjasyn, Asiata, Bolton, Hannant. A mixture of two old school heads, a youngster and an everywhere man. Hannant and Bolton make waves off the bench, as does young John Asiata in his first proper season of NRL. This is not the flashest bench – but they get put to work early, and reap the rewards of their experience when it comes to the crunch.
WHY NORTH QUEENSLAND WILL WIN IT
Watching the Cowboys season playout this year – there has just been a certain aura around them. Despite being 0-3 to start the year – their thirteen wins in a row after that was something utterly remarkable. They have the players, they have the spark – and they have the motivation of the last three years of not making it behind them. All acting as a force to point them over the line and gain their maiden Premiership.
They’ve had a near perfect season. This could be the year the Cowboys finally get the gold.
WHO WILL WIN IT
On paper, it’s not fair. Both teams are stacked with match winners, guys who will do the hard yakka and men who have speed to burn. The Broncos somewhat have an upper hand, as a few of their players have been in this situation before, back in their last Premiership victory over Melbourne in 2006.
I’m going to go out and say it. The North Queensland Cowboys will be the 2015 Premiers. I just back them to do it. This will be a game for the ages too. A Grand Final we can all watch, regardless of which team you support.
The Clive Churchall Medalist, for best on ground will go to none other than Johnathan Thurston as he leads his men to a 26-20 victory.
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